Peer-to-peer lender SoFi has raised $80m from big-name investors and recruited the head of the New York Stock Exchange and the founder of PayPal as advisers, as it seeks to expand beyond student loans.
SoFi has so far focused on using its peer-to-peer platform to refinance student loans for graduates, but wants to diversify into other areas including residential mortgages, which would be a first for a P2P lending company in the US.
Peer-to-peer lenders seek to use new technology to directly match borrowers with lenders, bypassing traditional lenders such as banks to extend credit at a cheaper rate. In the US, the industry remains dominated by Lending Club and Prosper, the two biggest P2P lenders, who have traditionally focused on personal loans.
Mike Cagney, SoFi’s chief executive, said the company was aiming to fill a gap left by retreating banks reluctant to make home loans to younger borrowers.
“We’re using the capital to start building a broader disruptive message, which is being able to do things like mortgages and personal loans,” Mr Cagney told the Financial Times.
SoFi said in a statement on Thursday that it had raised funding from Discovery Capital, the hedge fund founded by Robert Citrone, and Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, as well as Wicklow Capital and previous investors.
Mr Thiel has joined the company as an adviser, along with Duncan Niederauer, chief executive of NYSE Euronext, who has said that he is likely in his final year at the exchange operator now owned by ICE. Discovery’s Wije Wijegoonaratna joined SoFi’s board.
SoFi has already begun a pilot programme to extend mortgages to borrowers on its platform, Mr Cagney said. The idea is to reach younger borrowers who may not be able to secure a mortgage from banks which are bound by new rules around home loans.
“There’s no one really doing that at the moment,” said Peter Renton, an independent blogger and investor in peer-to-peer loans.
But he cautioned: “There’s a big mismatch between investor expectations of time duration and the length of mortgages, so I don’t know how they’re going to deal with that.”
SoFi has broken ground in the P2P industry before.
The company sold the first securitisation of peer-to-peer loans to secure a credit rating in November last year. Eaglewood Capital, a New York-based fund, sold the first bonds backed by P2P loans in October but the deal was unrated.
Mr Cagney said SoFi was hoping to complete additional securitisations with participation from additional rating agencies. SoFi secured a single-A rating from DBRS for its inaugural transaction, partly because the student loans underlying the deal are longer-term obligations that are not able to be discharged in bankruptcy.
Single-A is “a level people are able to get comfortable with” when it comes to peer-to-peer loans, said Chuck Weilamann, analyst at DBRS.
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